Photo Credit: Rúben Castilla Herrera
The GLAHR offices were filled with native Georgians and people from all corners of the country. Some were working on art work and banners for the march, others were folding fliers and participating in “Know Your Rights” workshops, and some were sent to the streets to document which businesses would remain open or be closing in support of the call for non-compliance (no work/no shopping).
If the huevos and frijoles didn’t wake me up, the sentiment of solidarity and resistance felt in that room was more than enough to keep me up all night.
Nancy and I worked on art while Aaron and Mateo went out to talk to businesses. Though I’ve been involved with worker and immigrant rights work for a long time, it was still pretty emotional being in a room with large banners and signs that read “Immigrant Rights are Human Rights,”“Brown is Beautiful,” and “Education is a Human Right.”
My personal favorite had to be NO HB 87, Racism Rots Georgia, which depicted an onion as the “O.” The pun stems from the Georgia Agribusiness Council reporting on how crops are rotting in Georgia’s fields because immigrant farm workers, who are paid an average of $8 per day without benefits, have decided to leave. After talking to both organizers and workers, it’s evident that this exodus to neighboring states where no such laws are in place won’t cease anytime soon.
Governor Deal proposed that farmers should hire unemployed criminal probationers, but many of them opted not to return to the fields after just one day’s work, claiming it was too hard and the pay was too low. You have to wonder what in the world did these guys expect would happen to the Georgia economy without immigrant workers?
It is estimated that the state’s $1.1 billion fruit-and-vegetable industry could suffer a loss of $300 million due to the labor shortage.
On Saturday, July 2, 2011, The March for Justice in Atlanta was set to begin at 10:00 AM, but the Washington Five woke up bright and early. The organizers of the march asked people to wear white and not to bring any flags from their native countries. We had to show Georgia and everyone in the country that we are a united force.
Buses lined the streets around the Capitol Building. At 9:30 AM, the march organizers started to rally the crowd, leading us through chants and breaking with cumbias. I was a bit nervous around ten o’clock because the crowd wasn’t growing as I expected.
Aaron and Mateo were helping with security while Maestra, Nancy, and I held one of the many beautiful banners. We positioned ourselves near the front, behind another banner reading “Undocumented and Unafraid,” which was held by Georgia’s DREAMers, undocumented students seeking the right to attend college/university.
Complaining about the 94 degrees heat and anxious to begin the march, I turned back at about five minutes to ten and couldn’t see the end of the street. Thousands of types of people, as far as I could see, were ready to march for Georgia’s immigrant community—for reform, for justice, for peace.
As goose bumps covered my body, one of the organizers on the main stage asked for silence. A woman stepped to the microphone, asking us to pray as one for a successful and peaceful march. The crowd went into an uproar when she finished, and the march began with everyone chanting, “Si Se Puede! Yes We Can!”
Organizers and city officials estimated more than 20,000 people attended the march. I left having nearly lost my voice but filled with hope and energy to continue in this struggle to defeat all of these bigoted, anti-immigrant laws. They’re fools if they think we’re giving up.
As stated by Marisa, one of NDLON’s organizers, “Taking an example, what’s happened with S-Comm, we take six months ago, you talk to someone in DC and they said you can’t touch that, don’t touch it. And what we’re seeing now, you see Illinois, you see Massachusetts [and New York rejecting Secure Communities]. Essentially what we’re doing is, see this big monster and all of us de piedras! […] telling our story and somehow that insurmountable thing is within our reach.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “In the first quarter of 2011, state legislators in the 50 states and Puerto Rico introduced 1,538 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. This number surpasses the first quarter of 2010, when 1,180 bills were introduced.” Alabama’s SB 1070 copycat law, which will take effect September 1, is even more draconian than the rest.
With the above figures in mind, we’ll continue to stand with the people of Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, and with the Latin American, Asian, and African immigrant communities of the US—one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.